[St. Pachomius Library]

Nikolai Fëdorovich Fëdorov and Anthropo-Cosmism

XIX/XX Centuries
A Moscow reference librarian who lived in voluntary poverty and undertook ascetical practices, N. F. Fyodorov created "psychocracy", an elaborate cosmological, ethical and political system based on his understanding of Orthodoxy. Whether that system is indeed Orthodox, heretical, or simply incoherent has been frequently debated; there is no doubt that his writings were admired by figures as diverse as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

Fyodorov was much concerned with comparative religion. He saw Orthodoxy as the via regalis between the distortions of Western Christianity on the one hand and Islam on the other -- religions whose secret unity was, he claimed, revealed by their open alliance in the Crimean War. At his most Orthodox, Fyodorov was acutely aware of the Holy Trinity as a community of loving persons, and sought to revive the Byzantine and ancient Russian vision of earthly society as a mirror of divine love. His expression of this idea was however highly idiosyncratic; he spoke in almost Confucian language of "the cult of ancestors" and the need for children to honour their father. It seems to me that this rhetoric was connected to Fyodorov's personal biography: he was the illegitimate son of a prince and a peasant woman.

What is most astonishing and perhaps disturbing about Fyodorov is his extreme technological optimism, a trait which is said to have made him an unacknowledged inspiration of the Soviet dream. He not only expected science to resolve nearly all the material difficulties of human life, but also literally to raise the dead from the ages, thereby demonstrating the fullness of filial love and piety! This strange vision of technology's ultimate mission anticipated Teilhard de Chardin by decades and the immortalist philosophy of Frank Tipler et al. by nearly a century.

Fyodorov was at once fascinated and repelled by Tibetan Buddhism and Blavatskian theosophy. Like Nicholas Roerich in a later generation, he believed that a secret mystical centre was hidden in Central Asia -- presumably the Buddhist Shambhala but identified by Fyodorov with Eden -- and wanted to establish contact with it. These occult speculations do not seem to have led Fyodorov to leave the Church, but his thinking was posthumously incorporated (with that of the ecologist Vernadsky and others) into the quasi-religious cult of Anthropo-Cosmism, which enjoyed great popularity in the 1920s and again after the fall of the Soviet Union. The most famous anthropo-cosmist was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, father of the Russian space programme; the sect's futurist ideology considers space exploration to be a religious imperative.

Norman Hugh Redington


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